Background Information: Events leading to the outbreak of the war
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On 18 July 1936, the commander of the Spanish Army based in Morocco, General Francisco
Franco, issued a proclamation setting up an alternative government to the official Republican government in Madrid. This action led directly to the outbreak of a civil war in Spain that would last until the beginning of 1939.
Between 1930 and 1936, Spain experienced a series of violent political upheavals. In 1930, with the overthrow of the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, Spain had become a
Republic for the first time, with the monarchy driven into exile. The republican government, having effectively removed the monarchy, began to abolish some of Spain’s most revered institutions, such as the Ancient Military Orders and soon turned its attack on the Catholic Church itself, by removing its control over education and by nationalizing church property. This alienated important sections of Spanish opinion, so that a right wing coalition was victorious in the elections of 1933.
Government failure to implement promised land reform and its general drift to the right (including reversal of previous republican reforms) led to a general strike and a declaration of
Catalan Independence in March 1934. By October, the Catalan rising and a miners’ strike in Asturias were crushed with both speed and brutality. Spain seemed to be heading for chaos, although the government managed to hang on until February 1936 when fresh elections were held. These resulted in a sweeping victory for a
Popular Front of republicans, socialists, communists and anarchists, led by Manuel Azana The new regime launched itself once more into land reform and promised independence for Catalonia. However, events ran ahead, and beyond the control of, the new government. Peasants began to divide up estates for themselves, and churches and convents were attacked and burned.
So far, the Spanish Army had remained loyal to successive political regimes, though inclining naturally towards the forces of conservatism. However, army leaders were now becoming increasingly restless in the face of growing social and political disorder, the removal of the Ancient Military Orders and attacks on the Church. They began to feel that the survival of the Army itself was now under threat. This led directly to Franco’s proclamation and
military coup of July 1936.
The coup itself failed to overthrow Azana’s republican government, partly because not all army units were prepared to rise in rebellion, and partly because many socialist militias remained loyal to the Republic. However, this split in the Army ensured that civil war would follow – a particularly bitter conflict, in which more than 750,000 Spaniards were killed.